In case you missed it!

Although I enjoy putting my own, sometimes random, thoughts relating to the NFL here on I also write for and I’ve concentrated recent efforts on there. Thought it would be worth linking up and providing links to my recent @99YDS work.

First up my recent preview of the NFL divisions as I see them at this point in time. I’m really excited about what the West has to offer, in both the AFC and NFC. I think their inter-divisional match ups will be among the most intriguing and exciting next season.

Part 1 – Go West! (NFC West)

Part 2 – The Wild Wild West (AFC West)

Part 3 – Best of the Rest

I’ve also been interested in how teams and coaches go about building a “Championship Culture”. I put together an article based on interviews Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks  held on their “Move The Sticks” podcast last autumn with several high profile head coaches. It was fascinating how the principles in building a football team could translate to pretty much any team situation, whether sport or in the workplace.

The article “Building a Championship Culture” can be found at

Hope you might find something interesting in amongst these as we wait for the start of the next NFL season!




NFL Draft 2020 – Team by Team review

I’ve already posted my Top 10 takeaways on but i wanted to do a quickfire team by team grade and analysis of the 2020 NFL Draft. Let’s dive right in, division by division.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills – A
The Bills did not have a day 1 pick due to the Stefan Diggs trade, but his addition will certainly be worth the trade. They then nailed their next four picks – AJ Epenesa fell to #54 and helps build strength on strength for the Buffalo D. Zack Moss (RB) and Gabriel Davis (WR) are excellent additions to the offense, and then Jake Fromm (who is about as different a QB as you could get from Josh Allen) could develop into a really sound back up to Allen. And I love they took kicker Tyler Bass!

Miami Dolphins – B
The Dolphins had 3 picks on day 1 and, for me, 2 of those 3 were a reach (Austin Jackson & Noah Igbinoghene). They did have highlights though – offensive lineman Robert Hunt in round 2 and edge rusher Curtis Weaver dropping all the way to round 5. They are going through a roster reset and will need to hope the prospects develop how they hope.

New England Patriots – B+
Loved what the Patriots did on day 2 – the defensive trio of Kyle Dugger (S), Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings (EDGE) may help to offset the losses of Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy. They also picked up two tight ends (Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene) who have the versatility to prove themselves as starters in the now Brady-less offense.

New York Jets – A
The Jets nailed it early on to support Sam Darnold by bolstering the offensive line (Mekhi Becton) and a big, imposing receiver (Denzel Mimms). Ashtyn Davis has track athlete speed and a high football IQ – if they can hang on to Jamal Adams they will have an impressive secondary in 2020.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens – A+
Oh c’mon, give us a break… Patrick Queen falls to them in round 1 at #28, JK Dobbins adds to their all powerful run game in the second round and top defensive tackle slips to round 3. They hit home runs all the way down – both day 3 guards (Ben Bredeson and Tyre Phillips) have the ability to be starters and slot receiver James Proche will prove a very useful pickup.

Cincinnati Bengals – A
The Bengals did not fluff their lines picking first in every round of the draft. Burrow in the bag and Tee Higgins to throw to at the top of round 2. Linebacker help has arrived in Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither and late on day 3 Markus Bailey. Hakeem Adniji was also a great pick up in round 6 to add depth on the offensive line.

Cleveland Browns – A-
Big Boy draft for the Browns this year. Every pick should give them a great return. Jedrick Wills is a great tackle (but he’ll likely need to switch to LT rather than Conklin). Grant Delpit (S), Jordan Eilliot (DT) and Jacob Phillips (LB) all improve the defense. They seem to be collecting TEs with Harrison Bryant in round 4 – is David Njoku on the way out?

Pittsburgh Steelers – B
Not too much to get excited about here as the Steelers only had 6 picks but they did make solid choices. Highlight for me would be the second rounder Chase Claypool who has the ability to fulfil a WR/TE hybrid role.

AFC South

Houston Texans – B-
Did they have any picks left? Five picks in total and they managed to do what they could with them. Ross Blacklock (DT) will be disruptive on defense and Charlie Heck in round 4 (OT) is a good prospect. Try and keep some picks in 2021 hey Bill?

Indianapolis Colts – A+
Love it. After bringing in Phillip Rivers they give him the best chance to win by drafting Michael Pittman JR at receiver (he will become their #1) and Jonahtan Taylor (RB) to help keep defenses honest. Then in round 4 they draft Rivers’ potential successor – QB Jacob Eason has a great spot here to watch and learn from Rivers and then take over in 1-2 years.

Jacksonville Jaguars – B+
Nice start on day 1 with their 2 picks as CJ Henderson (CB) and K’Lavon Chaisson (EDGE) help to rebuild the defence. Laviska Shenault JR adds yards after catch as a receiver – as long as he stays healthy. Ben Bartch (OT) is raw and new to the position but shows promise and on day 3 WR Collin Johnson adds size and presence as a pass catcher.

Tennessee Titans – C+
Titans were another team with limited picks. They did need to replace Jack Conklin at right tackle but Isaiah Wilson at #29 could be rich. Kristian Fulton (CB) fell down the boards against other defensive backs so the end of round 2 became good value. Nothing stood out with their other picks.

AFC West

Denver Broncos – A-
The Broncos went all out at wide receiver by double dipping first two rounds. Jerry Jeudy was the best route runner of the draft and KJ Hamler has great speed in the slot. Lloyd Cushenberry is good enough to start at center straightaway and Justin Strnad (LB) on day 3 was another high point.

Kansas City Chiefs – A
Like the Ravens, the Chiefs solidified and consolidated strengths. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB) is a dual weapon 3-down back (as if that offense needed help). Willie Gay JR (LB) is a ferocious downhill defender and L’Jarius Sneed a versatile defensive back which will bolster the ‘Spags’ D.

Las Vegas Raiders – B-
Ok, I get it, they are in Vegas now so it’s glitz, glamour and gambling hereon-in. That’s how it seemed in the draft. Taking Henry Ruggs before Jeudy or Lamb screamed “the need for speed”. I hope he’s not another John Ross. Damon Arnette was a huge reach at #19 when other options were there at CB. Lynn Bowden is perhaps even more exciting than Ruggs in terms of the versatility he brings (they could use him similar to how 49ers use Deebo Samuel). Amik Robertson was my favourite prospect at the nickel CB position – so tough and physical even at only 5’8”.

Los Angeles Chargers – B+
The Chargers got their QB of the future in Justin Herbert and followed up by trading up for LB Kenneth Murray. It cost them in day 2 picks but it will be worth it. Big value on day 3 with, somehow, slot receiver KJ Hill falling to them in round 7.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys – A
CeeDee Lamb at #17? How? The Cowboys struck lucky and Jerry did not blink. Followed that up by improving the secondary (Trevon Diggs and Reggie Robinson) and Gallimore on the defensive line is a real disruptor. Their luck continued on day 3 with Bradlee Anae (EDGE) in round 5. They should now challenge the Eagles.

New York Giants – B
Solid draft – very much focused on solving the o-line issues (3 of the first 5 picks). Xavier McKinney was the highlight, falling to them in round 2. More help came to the secondary and at linebacker but the fans would have liked to see some pass rush in there.

Philadelphia Eagles – C+
Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson? That could haunt the Eagles in years to come. Reagor was a reach at #21 and using a 2nd round pick for what will be a developmental back up QB (Jalen Hurts) may also prove rich. There were nice picks in here – round 6 LB Shaun Bradley for one, but with the Cowboys improvement they may look back and rue the early picks.

Washington Redskins – B
Maybe you get an A just for Chase Young? My concern here would be that if you knew that Trent Williams was on the way out maybe you should have picked up the tackle before Saahdiq Charles on day 3 (could have had Josh Jones round 3).

NFC North

Chicago Bears – B-
Another TE? Cole Kmet is yet another addition to those ranks in Chicago. My highlight would be Jaylon Johnson at CB who would have gone round 1 if not for a current injury he is working through. Not much else of note, with only 2 picks across first 2 days.

Detroit Lions – B
Lots of holes on D to fill and Jeff Okudah (CB) and Julian Okwara (EDGE) go some way to doing that but I would like to have seen more creativity across those first 2 days to get another starting defender.

Green Bay Packers – B-
I can see it. This is a changing of the guard in the way the Packers move the ball. Less reliance on Rodgers and that may not go down well at first or even for a season or two. Love is the future in Green Bay. AJ Dillon is a bull of a running back – let’s hope Rodgers doesn’t mind handing off to him 15 times a game! Really interested to see how Packers play offense in 2020.

Minnesota Vikings – A+
Everything about this should make the Vikings favourites for the division. Justin Jefferson replaces Stefon Diggs. Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler replenish the secondary. Ezra Cleveland will be a great offensive tackle and loved James Lynch (DE from Baylor in round 4). Also watch for EDGE Kenny Willekes from round 7 – no one will work harder to make the team.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons – B+
Only six picks but nailed the first 3 – AJ Terrell is a ball-hawk of a cornerback and Marlon Davidson was somewhat in the shadow of Derrick Brown at Auburn but has great rushing instinct. Matt Hennessy was one of the top centers in the draft so pick #78 was great value.

Carolina Panthers – B
All defensive picks? What, all 7 of them? Your offense is fine then, right? Great picks on one side of the ball – loved the opening trio of Derrick Brown, Yetur Gross-Matos and Jeremy Chinn but you could have used one guy on offense, surely?

New Orleans Saints – B
Only 2 days work for the Saints with no day 3 picks. Given they are a Super Bowl contender they could perhaps have used their first round pick on Patrick Queen (LB) but instead they renewed the offensive line with Cesar Ruiz. They did go linebacker in round 3 but I would have flipped those two positional picks. Adam Trautman could be the best TE in the class.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – A
You cannot doubt the Bucs are all in. They sought to back up TB12 with a tackle in round 1 (Tristan Wirfs), a running back in round 3 (Ke’Shawn Vaughn) and another receiver to that talented group in round 5 (Tyler Johnson). There were a couple of defensive picks too in there somewhere – Antoine Winfield JR joins at safety.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals – A+
Another group where I loved everything – Isaiah Simmons at #8 then somehow Josh Jones in round 3. Round 4 added to the D-line (Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence) and running back Eno Benjamin falling to round 7 was a mystery but great fortune for the Cardinals. They will compete in a tough division next season.

Los Angeles Rams – B
The Rams lost their way last year, a sort of Super Bowl loss hangover. The draft sought to reaffirm their identity. Cam Akers (RB) helps to fill the gap left by Todd Gurley and Van Jefferson (WR) is as smooth a route runner as you can find. They’ll hope EDGE Terrell Lewis can stay fit on defense.

San Francisco 49ers – B+
John Lynch works magic. He somehow convinced the Bucs to swap places in round one and they still got Javon Kinlaw (their replacement for DeForest Buckner). The Brandon Aiyuk pick later that round show provide the Kyle Shanahan offense with another exciting piece but trading up to #25 may be a reach.

Seattle Seahawks – B-
Seattle continued to pick future Seahawks. The first 2 picks were classic Seattle – raw athletic talent that they feel they can coach on technique. Jordyn Brooks (LB) ahead of Patrick Queen will be contentious if Brooks does not work out. Damien Lewis was a nice grab in round 3 at guard and I love the potential of DeeJay Dallas (RB round 4) and Alton Robinson (EDGE round 5) but they need the early picks to work out.

That’s it – my quick assessment of everyone’s 2020 draft haul. Time will tell!

The QB Crystal Ball

As we approach the first key dates for offseason free agency and the 2020 Draft, a number of stories both confirmed and unconfirmed have appeared. Out of these stories, further narratives are starting to gain interest and traction. Then it is a case of pick your poison because no one really knows at this point – Brady is staying or going, Cam Newton is staying or going, Andy Dalton, Drew Brees, the list of QBs with unclear futures seems endless this off season. So, before any more wild theories are debunked by the truth let’s see how this may all pan out….

Let’s look into the QB Crystal Ball

Name: Philip Rivers

What advice do you seek? I’m looking for a fresh start after being cut by my long-term partner, the LA Chargers

Advice – Hmmm, it seems as though you have been the one trying hardest to keep this relationship going over the last 16 years. Only 2 playoff appearances in the last decade is a poor return, and now. at the age of 38, the Chargers have decided to part company with you.

This may be a blessing in disguise. It is clear that you feel there is at least one good season left and you have moved your family back to Florida and although this does not necessarily point to where the next team may be based there are candidates ‘way out east’. The first, and possibly most attractive, are the Indianapolis Colts. A solid o-line, good running game and well-built roster and management through Chris Ballard are all plus points. There is good history with Frank Reich (Chargers QB Coach and OC with Rivers between 2013-2015. Throw in that the Colts had 10-dome games next year and the Colts is a nice place for a swan song. It would be an upgrade on Jacoby Brissett and could allow Indianapolis to draft a QB 2nd round to sit behind you for 1-2 years.

Other destinations have been mentioned – the Bucs and Panthers in particular. The Bucs have the targets at WR but does Bruce Arians really replace one youthful gunslinger for a veteran equivalent? The Panthers feel like a franchise in complete reboot mode and you may want a franchise with a better chance of a dart at the playoffs. The Colts feel like the best fit here.

Name: Tom Brady

What advice do you seek? After many successful years with my long-term partner it feels like we are drifting apart and maybe I should look elsewhere?

Advice: Hmmm, the 2019 season was the lowest point for you in the last 4 years. Lowest yards per attempt, lowest % completion rate, lowest QB rating. It is not all on you though. There is obvious frustration with the pieces around you and this was evident throughout the season. Gronk has gone. Edelman’s skills are also declining. The Patriots mis-fired in the 2019 draft at WR. And yet. The aura is still there. Rumours of New England still willing to offer $30M a year circle, as does one of the Las Vegas Raiders seeking to offer a 2-year deal out in the desert.

This one feels so big it is almost impossible to get a read on it. Usually the New England Patriots move on from ageing veterans rather than cling on hoping for a late renaissance. But this is Tom Brady we are talking about. Even Bill Belichick may accept to roll the dice one more time and it looks as though Josh McDaniels will remain the OC next season. Familiarity with the system may go a long way. However, the Raiders could be a tempting prospect. Through Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden, the Raiders are headed in the right direction. With another 2 first round draft picks this year the Raiders could supply greater support on offense.

The Chargers have also been mooted but would they swap one veteran QB for another? They do need a ‘name’ at QB to help draw in some semblance of a home crowd but their roster is not on the same upward curve as the Raiders. It does look like Derek Carr could be the odd one out here but Brady to the Raiders is too good to ignore. Oh and the Raiders play the Patriots next year too….

Name: Cam Newton

What advice do you seek? After a difficult time with injuries I don’t think I’m wanted anymore.

Advice: Hmmm, you are entering the final year of the current contract and carry a substantial cap hit for the Panthers at around $19M. And you are coming off a complete write off of a 2019 season. First a torn rotator cuff then a Lisfranc injury have put fitness and mobility front and centre. The Panthers, and owner David Tepper, are in limbo waiting to see proof of your fitness. Even if you are able to prove your fitness the Panthers may seek to keep you around but probably only for the next year.

Should the Panthers seek to trade where could you end up? You are a QB with star power, so this means looking for a market which needs its stars. Step forward the LA Chargers. They are moving on from a QB with a distinct lack of mobility so if you can prove you are still an all-action hero it could be the ideal switch. Think of the boost to ticket sales, something the Chargers need to do. Yes the Chargers could draft a QB this year but, sat at #6 with little to offer in additional picks, they may miss out. Go west Cam, go west.

Name: Sean Payton

What advice do you seek? I’ve got 3 QBs and I’m not sure which ones to keep.

Advice: Hmmm, the QB room is stacked with talent in New Orleans: Drew Brees, Taysom Hill and Teddy Bridgewater. However, there are decisions to make around all 3 this offseason after another year of heartbreak and underperformance in the playoffs. Drew Brees is 41 years old and currently mulling over whether to spin the wheel one more time with you and the Saints. For Brees it is New Orleans or retirement. It was another good season for Brees and you have proved you can adapt playcalling to suit the talents of the QBs. There is a ‘but’ coming.

In the playoff loss to the Vikings the ‘X’ factor was not Drew Brees, but Taysom Hill. He is your ‘swiss-army knife’ able to run, throw, catch, block punts, anything and everything. Had he been on the field for more snaps in the playoff loss the Saints may well have won through. Hill has been with New Orleans for 3 seasons now and for the last 2 he has appeared in every game taking a small percentage of the snaps. He has been quoted recently as seeing himself as a franchise QB. There is a relatively small sample size at present but enough that New Orleans is considering putting him as a restricted free agent, possibly with a 1st round price tag attached in order to flush out any interest.

It is doubtful that another team will gamble on Hill as their starter at this point in time. What is more likely is that the Brees/Hill combination could start to share out offensive snaps to a greater degree. With your innovative and ever-evolving playacting that could just turn out to be the best way forward for the Saints to greater success next year. The odd man out is likely to be Bridgewater but that may be no bad thing for him. He started 5 straight games when Brees was injured last season and he took care of the ball. Bridgewater could do a nice job elsewhere in the league and would be another candidate for the Chargers if they decided to steer clear of the headlines and go for an efficient if unspectacular new starting QB.

The quick-fire round!

Marcus Mariota – find a team willing to take you on as a backup in a Taysom Hill style role.
Bruce Arians – stick with Jameis Winston. You’ve just got his eyes fixed, you may as well see if that was the problem all along! Short-term 2 or 3 year prove it deal.
Jerry Jones – for pity’s sake just sign Dak to a new contract, what else you gonna do? Pay the man.
Ryan Pace – you can’t leave Trubisky with no-one pushing him to be better in that QB room. Go get Andy Dalton from the Bengals and try to light a fire under Mitch.
Ryan Tannehill – take the new contract offer which will come from the Titans, but hey don’t get greedy, you were good but it is still a small sample size.
Bill Belichick – yes you are right to let Brady go, painful though that is you knew the day would come. Now is the time for a safe, efficient, interim leader and Teddy Bridgewater could be the guy.
Derek Carr – don’t trust anything that comes out of Jon Gruden’s mouth. Keep an open mind, it is only a matter of time before Gruden’s head gets turned.

All, any or none of this could happen in the next month. Should be a lot of fun finding out!

The Tannehill Titans

I have a soft spot for the Tennessee Titans. Now, I know everyone will be saying that as they head into the AFC Championship game next weekend against the Kansas City Chiefs. I wrote about the AFC South during the 2018/19 season and grew to respect and admire the 9-7 Titans – as they could legitimately change their name to since 9-7 has been their regular season record for the last 4 years. A good, solid, competitive franchise which had enjoyed relative success with GM Jon Robinson guiding the way. However, they were a team which could challenge but was never thought of as a true Super Bowl contender. Until now.

In the lead up to the NFL’s 100th season there was a big question mark over the Quarterback position in Tennessee. The team had nurtured strength in the offensive line and running game, and had a defense which was aggressive and competitive. But, in order to be a true contender then needed another trick, another wrinkle to the offense, through the air.

For 4 straight seasons Marcus Mariota had flattered to deceive, unable to consistently impose himself on games, usually coming up short when the game was on him. There was some mitigation including an inability to draft or acquire offensive weapons for Mariota to target. Then in the 2019 offseason the Titans acquired reinforcements. At the wide receiver position Adam Humphries arrived in free agency from Tampa Bay, and then in the 2019 Draft the Titans selected AJ Brown from Ole Miss. No one could have foreseen just how good a pick that would become. This season was always going to be make-or-break for Mariota with the Titans needing to make a decision whether to enter into another contract with him, or to move on from the former 1st round draft pick.

They made one more change on offense which would prove crucial, bringing Ryan Tannehill in from the Miami Dolphins. Somewhat similar to Mariota, Tannehill, himself a 1st a round draft pick, had never set the world alight with the Dolphins mired in a relatively poor run during the last decade. He would, however, provide a capable backup if needed – although this again pointed to a season of perhaps a small incremental improvement, not a run deep into the playoffs. The start to the season bore this prediction out. After week 6’s defeat to the Denver Broncos, where the Titans were scoreless, their record sat at 2-4. They were at a crossroads. If they fell behind, Mariota could not bring them back, not even close. During that week 6 defeat a decision was taken which changed their season. In the 3rd quarter Ryan Tannehill came in for Mariota. He could not alter that result but he showed enough spark to take the starting job from week 7 onwards.

Since that date, October 20th, the Tennessee Titans went 7-3. Ryan Tannehill finished the 2019 regular season with a league high QB rating of 117.5, off the back of a 70% completion rate, 22TDs and only 6 INT. By no means was the improvement in the team’s record all on him but he had become an ultra reliable cog in the machine. He quickly developed a knack of finding AJ Brown who has gone over 1,000 yards receiving and the passing game now acts as a complimentary part of the attack assisting the all powerful running game led by the juggernaut himself, Derrick Henry (over 1,500 yards rushing). There is now balance, with defenses having to at least acknowledge the threat Tannehill poses. He has been the definition of efficient and very effective as a drive-manager on the field, vastly improving the Titans efficiency in the redzone.

So the Titans now find themselves one game away from the Super Bowl with only the Chiefs standing in their way. This will be their first AFC Championship game since 2002 and they come into the game after dispensing with 2 of the pre-playoff AFC favourites: the Patriots and Ravens. In both games the plan has been broadly the same – lean on Derrick Henry, use that focus to pull out the odd trick play, and seek to capitalise on the mistakes of others (very Patriots like). Against the Ravens the Titans scored 21 points off the back of turnovers.

Can they go all the way? Of course, they can, but the AFC Championship game may present the most difficult opponents left for the Titans to play. The Titans defense has been ordinary against the pass this season (ranked 21st by DVOA). Now they must face Pat Mahomes’ Chiefs, fresh from their 50-burger against the Texans, after giving Houston a generous 24 points head start. However, the Chiefs defense ranks 29th against the run (again by DVOA), suggesting Derrick Henry will again have a field day. Both teams should be able to put points on the board – and the (albeit simplistic) task will be – stop Mahomes and stop Henry, or at least slow both of them down. In the midst of this battle don’t be surprised if at a crucial point the Titans go play-action and trust Tannehill to deliver another downfield surprise on the Chiefs.

In a way Tannehill reminds me of Nick Foles and his Super Bowl run with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017. Yes, the Eagles perhaps relied more on Foles than the Titans do on Tannehill but Philly also had a strong running game (twin-headed by LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi) and in both cases the QB now at the helm had started the season as a backup, unsure they would receive any great opportunity. And look what happened in 2017. The Titans may be the Cinderella team left in the playoffs but fairy tales do happen. What odds a ‘Tennessee special’ in this year’s Super Bowl?

Other thoughts on the divisional round

I’ve been surprised (sort of) to see the reaction to some of the losing teams from the divisional round (and from the wildcard round before that) and how quickly we lost sight that these were the 12 best teams in the NFL this year, so they must be doing something right.

There have been calls that the Vikings and Texans (and the Saints and Patriots before that) are going to need to rip it up and start again. Issues in relation to the salary cap and/or lack of draft picks have been cited, as have the futures of QBs (Brees, Brady and even Cousins – one week after he was revered for the demolition of the Saints). Whilst there is some credence to this (e.g. the Vikings and Saints are up against the cap, the Texans have frittered away their draft picks, and who knows where Brady ends up) these are well run and well coached franchises who have appeared in the playoffs time and again in recent years. I think all the 2019 playoff teams will be competitive again next year.

Championship Predictions

AFC – Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs – love what the Titans have been able to achieve this year and they have beaten two of the toughest opponents possible. But can Derrick Henry keep carrying 30 times a game in this level of intensity. And how do you live with the high octane madness of the Chiefs offense when they hit stride? Kansas just has too much for Tennessee.

Tennessee Titans 24 – 34 Kansas City Chiefs

NFC – Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers – the 49ers looked so good last weekend. The bye week had helped to rest and recuperate their key players. Their defence stopped Dalvin Cook and they can stop Aaron Jones this time around. I love the Smiths on Green Bay’s defense (Za’Darius and Preston) and I think they could seek to take the middle of the field away from Jimmy G. Then there is Aaron Rodgers. He must know he does not have too many more shots at this given the competitive nature of the league. Rodgers will be a thorn in the 49ers side but San Francisco are simply too good across the roster in the end. Could be a classic though!

Green Bay Packers 23 – 26 San Francisco 49ers

Same time next week when we will have our Super Bowl match up!

Wildcard weekend – winners and woes

The first weekend of the 2020 NFL Playoffs delivered big on drama – 2 games went into overtime and all were decided by one score. Quarterback play was at the forefront of the deciding moments – for some it was their first playoff appearance or win, and for others it was, perhaps, their last moments in the spotlight.

End of an era (or two)….?

Two of the defeats may prove to be of great significance to the losing teams; the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints. In the other matchups there is hope in defeat for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Buffalo Bills.

The Bills, led by Josh Allen, will come again. For 3 and a 1/2 quarters they dominated their game against the Houston Texans. Then the wheels fell off. Allen showed his limitations and inexperience, and Sean McDermott would probably like some late coaching calls back too. Taking that into account it is still a successful season for the Bills and they are well setup to come again in 2020. The Eagles were potentially the most ‘beat-up’ team in playoff history. Their lineup looked more like a preseason game than a must win one-off. Without Wentz, after he had put the team on his back for the last month to make the playoffs, the Eagles were doomed to lost to a Seahawks team which did just enough. As with the Bills, the Eagles will remain strong in 2020.

The losses which have the potential to impact future success more centre on their respective QBs, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.

The Patriots reached the playoffs in-spite of their offense. A soft schedule and the performance of their defense guided them to 12-4 (4-4 over the last 8 weeks). And yet, they could have beaten the Titans, and had numerous situations to help them do so. Up 10-7 in the second half they had a 1st down at the Tennessee 1-yard line – and came away with 3 points. They punted on a 4th and 3 on the Tennessee 47, and then on 4th and 4 at their own 37 late in the 4th quarter. Compare that with the aggressive way in which many teams now approach 4th and short. Also, this is Tom Brady in a playoff game – and Belichick did not trust that TB12 and Josh McDaniels could engineer the 1st down. In the end it was as though the Patriots new the jig was up, and they submitted.

Some of the wash-up around the reasons for this happening has to fall at the player recruitment on offense, the weapons that Brady simply did not have. The Patriots missed on Adam Humphries in FA and then drafted N’Keal Harry in the first round – compare his rookie year to AJ Brown (2nd round to Titans), DK Metcalff (2nd round to Seahawks) or Terry McLaurin (3rd round to Redskins). Could Brady have made more with any of these alternatives? The loss of Gronk to retirement added to the problems in Brady having targets to choose from. The question of whether Brady wants to return to the Patriots in 2020 probably starts with him asking, “so, who are you going to go out and get for me to throw to?”.

The New Orleans Saints suffered playoff heartbreak again, making it twice in three years to walk-off TDs by the Minnesota Vikings. The result was justified, if not the decision on the final play (we’ll leave that for now). The Vikings were simply the better team. The defence, using similar tactics to the Atlanta Falcons from their week 10 victory of New Orleans, rushed the interior to great effect. On offense, the Vikings were fluid, running off tackle well and Kirk Cousins had a very effective game. Minnesota could be one of the most complete ‘teams’ in the playoffs, which makes them dangerous to all opponents. The problem for the Saints was this game highlighted a decline in Drew Brees’ ability. If it wasn’t for the astonishing ‘make things happen’ effort of Taysom Hill, the Saints very-own swiss army knife, this game would have been lost well before OT. Brees could not drive the offense forward consistently and he made 2 game-killing turnovers. Before half-time he rushed a play off rather than wait for the 2-minute warning and threw an INT into double-coverage. Minnesota replied with a TD and the Saints then missed a FG. The half time score was MIN 13-10 NO, it could have been MIN 6-17 NO. His fumble, down by 3 in the 4th quarter could have ended the Saints hopes altogether. Again, it came at a point where the Saints could have gone 24-20 ahead but instead they had to scramble at the death for a game tying FG to go to overtime. The scrambling also came as a result of some very suspect time management at the end of the 4th quarter from the Saints sideline.

This performance now puts Brees’ future firmly in focus. Both he and Teddy Bridgewater are unrestricted free agents and Taysom Hill is a restricted free agent. Tough decisions ahead for the Saints to ensure that in week 1 of the 2020 season they have the right guy under center, as the rest of the team should remain strong. One to watch with interest between now and March.

Divisional Round

In both the AFC and NFC we have the #6 seeds visiting the #1 seeds. This year the #6 seeds are as dangerous a proposition as I can remember. The Tennessee Titans can run over teams all day long with Derrick Henry, and as mentioned above, the Minnesota Vikings are a complete team who are on a roll after executing a near flawless game plan at the Saints.

It will be interesting to see whether the teams which had the luxury of the bye week will be up-to-speed or off the pace against the teams which had no rest. In the last 5 years only 4 out of 20 teams winning in wildcard weekend have gone on to win in the divisional round. The rest seems to give an advantage. However, I would see these 4 teams as perhaps the strongest quartet advancing to the divisional round against the previous 5 years. And of course, in the AFC you always had the Patriots lying in wait.

So predictions……considering i was 1 out of 4 in wildcard round…….

Minnesota Vikings @ San Francisco 49ers – the Vikings were so good last weekend, excellent game plan and execution. They will put up a good show against the 49ers but ultimately I think San Francisco will prove to be too good. 49ers by 7

Tennessee Titans @ Baltimore Ravens – one surefire stat for this weekend is that this game will have more yards rushing than passing. Derrick Henry vs Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram. Heavyweight clash for sure. The Ravens wish it was anyone but the Titans. But I’ve got to think Baltimore has too much going for them, Ravens by 4

Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs – the Texans won through from nowhere and if they can get Will Fuller back, and JJ Watt is one week ‘fitter’ then they will cause the Chiefs issues. But this is Pat Mahomes, he has as many tricks as Deshaun Watson, and he has Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. Chiefs by 6

Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers – the opportunity for the Packers to show they deserve to be #2 seed. Seattle are like the ‘undead’ it is almost impossible to shake them off. But they are still banged up and despite Russell Wilson’s one-man show I think Rodgers will guide Green Bay to the W, Packers by 3

Same time next week for the Championship round!

47 yards version of playoff analytics….

In the build up to the first weekend of the playoffs everyone is putting forward how they think the next month is going to pan out. Like many people I’ve had a go at the SuperBowl challenge which I did on the basis of what did I ‘feel’ was going to happen. But then I thought let’s try and look at it from a more analytical point of view. Therefore, i plucked (pretty much out of the air) a few factors and looked at how they impacted on each playoff team.

It is just a bit of fun…..but interesting nonetheless….


Regular season opponents results (schedule strength)
Regular season record
2019 record in close (one-score) games
2019 record against each other
Strength of offense and defense
Homefield advantage in the playoffs
Seeding advantage (i.e. the bye week)
Recent (last 2 years) playoff appearances


It was noteworthy here that this disadvantaged teams that had played against the weaker divisions – the AFC East and NFC East. This impacted on the Vikings & Packers, the Eagles, and the Bills & Patriots. Teams which benefitted were the Chiefs, Seahawks and Texans who all played against stronger sides, broadly speaking.

Regular season record goes hand in hand with the seeding advantage and home field advantage so this is where teams such as the Ravens, Chiefs, 49ers and Packers gained ground – the road to a Super Bowl is long and hard for the likes of the Bills, Vikings, Seahawks and Titans.

I feel 2019 record in close games is important as a team which has been blowing sides away in the regular season may struggle when faced with a close finish in the playoffs. This category really benefited the Seahawks (10-2), Packers (8-1) and Texans (8-3) whereas the Vikings (2-4) and Titans (3-3) suffered a little.

At this stage having a regular season win against a playoff opponent could also be a help. Now this category was fascinating and a good sign for exciting matchups throughout the playoffs. The Ravens (5-1) were standout winners here but the Bills (1-4) and Vikings (1-4) struggled again. Most of the other sides were around .500 in these games, with the Saints having the least number of games against playoff opponents (3-1 over 4 games).

In terms of offense and defense I used points per game – on offense how many times did they score 24 points or more, on defense how many times did they concede less than 24 points. (24 is a fair estimate for a mean score in an NFL game.) This then ranked the teams – the offensive stars were the Chiefs, Ravens, 49ers and Saints, on defense it was the Patriots, Bills and Ravens on top – with the Titans and Vikings just behind.

So, all this was plugged into my supercomputer, pinch of salt and pepper, and this gave each team a final record and a percent as it would in their 16 game season. And the result was….

Ravens 0.567
49ers 0.552
Chiefs 0.545
Texans 0.527
Seahawks 0.524
Patriots 0.521
Saints 0.521
Titans 0.497
Packers 0.488
Bills 0.466
Eagles 0.464
Vikings 0.461

I don’t think there is any surprise to see the Ravens, 49ers and Chiefs way out in front. I would have put the Saints level with the Chiefs but I think their lower score is a reflection of falling down the seeds and having to enter at the wildcard stage and then go on the road. Conversely I think the Packers low rating is an illustration that there have been question marks over Green Bay during the regular season (particularly on offense) and that their hopes are boosted by being #3 seed and the comfort of their potentially hostile home environment. If the Saints had been the #3 seed this would have put them on a par with the Seahawks on this scale.

The surprises are the Texans and Seahawks – they were solid throughout the process are particularly impressive in the close games scenario. I don’t think this exercise captures how ‘beat up’ the Seahawks are right now or that the Texans are reliant on a fit WR trio of Hopkins, Fuller and Stills for Deshaun Watson to throw to. But, maybe both could surprise and go further than expected.

The Patriots benefit from their recent playoff excursions and the performances of the defense this season. It suggests they will manage to see off the Titans but would then fall to the Chiefs, which seems entirely justifiable at present. Seeds #5 and #6 in both the AFC and NFC will struggle on these metrics although all have the chance to be ‘beserkers’ on their day.

Using the pct generated we get the Texans, Patriots, Seahawks and Saints advancing to the divisional games. Then it is the Ravens, Chiefs, Saints and 49ers into conference title weekend.

At conference level the Ravens would beat the Chiefs, and the 49ers would beat the Saints. In the Super Bowl the Ravens take the title.

But all that is a very raw, soul-less, look at games where emotion, passion, determination and toughness can win the day. I’ll leave it their and now get ready to settle down and enjoy the first weekend of the playoffs.

So now we know – Week 17 4-point stance

After 256 regular season match-ups we now have our 12 playoff contenders for Super Bowl LIV. Week 17 did not contain many upsets in terms of who was ‘in’ or ‘out’ but it did impact on the final seedings and which teams now need to go on the road to get to the Hard Rock Stadium, Miami. In the AFC the road to the big finale goes through Baltimore, in the NFC it is via San Francisco. Let’s take a look at the contenders and the wild card round of fixtures.


In the AFC the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs are worthy #1 and #2 seeds, and they can now benefit from the bye week in order to rest, regroup and take advantage of the opportunity to watch seeds #3-#6 scrap it out this weekend. Both sides are an embodiment of new wave, exciting, offenses with several generational talents in terms of their skill and speed. I doubt an AFC Championship of Ravens vs Chiefs would disappoint.

The final standings in the AFC represent a changing of the guard. The New England Patriots have, rightly, been displaced and will now need to fight tooth and nail on the road to make their 10th Super Bowl appearance in the Brady/Belichick era. There is no doubt the Patriots have struggled this year, specifically on offense, and their 12-4 record is an achievement in of itself. In previous years Foxboro has been the graveyard of many an AFC contenders playoff hopes – not this year.

Although divisional winners, the Houston Texans, can be bracketed alongside the wildcard spots won by the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans. All 3 could been seen as looking to upset the odds against the more established higher seeded teams. They have already achieved successful seasons in qualifying but how far could they go?

AFC Wildcard games

Buffalo Bills @ Houston Texans – interesting match-up, the Texans have more on offense but they go up against a Bills team stronger on defense. It doesn’t feel like a high scoring game and if they keep it low and close I think Buffalo will take this, Bills by 3

Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots – the Patriots are on the ropes but now in the arena they thrive in, knock-out football. Do they have what it takes to stop Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill and AJ Brown. The Patriots will need their defense (again) to bail them out of this one. I don’t think Tennessee will find this straightforward but, in the end, Titans by 6


The New Orleans Saints must be wondering how on earth, with a 13-3 record, they are only #3 seed and not taking the week off. In the NFC the San Francisco 49ers, arguably as a result of one missed PI call, are the #1 seed and, somehow, the Green Bay Packers are the #2 seed. The 49ers have been impressive all season long, particularly (on offense) since the FA deadline signing of Emmanuel Sanders. The defense started the season super aggressive and although there has been a recent decline the 49ers are the team to beat. The Packers defense, upgraded during the 2019 off-season, has propelled Green Bay to several wins whereas the offense has often mis-fired for long periods of games which may hurt them in one-off playoff games.

The Saints are the best #3 seed in a long time whereas the final division winners, the Philadelphia Eagles, have slugged their way in great adversity to the #4 seed. This may serve them well through January. The Minnesota Vikings have limped through the final stages of the regular season , 4-4 in the last 8 weeks. After being in contention for the NFC North title they fell short to the Packers in week 16 and then sat a number of starters which resulted in a meaningless game against the Bears. This was in some ways an odd move – week 17 could have been a chance for a mis-firing offense to regain momentum, instead they go into a wildcard game in no kind of form, despite being one of the more well-rounded rosters headed to the playoffs.

The other NFC playoff teams could be dangerous, wounded animals. The Eagles 4-0 run to the NFC East title was completed in-spite of an injury list which seemed to grow by the minute. In week 17 versus the Giants there was a queue for the blue tent: that’s how bad it was. Carson Wentz, with no receivers to speak of, has managed to lead his offense to vital wins. They have the benefit of experience in the recent playoffs and both the O-line and D-line are well established. The Seahawks have also experienced multiple injuries as the season has progressed but they found ways to win games – 12 of their 16 games were decided by one score (10-2). But for that last play against the 49ers they could have been the division winners. With Russell Wilson at the helm they will always be in contention in a one-off game.

NFC Wildcard games

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints – the Saints are purring whereas the Vikings are looking to putting the last few weeks behind them. The Vikings will have the Minneapolis Miracle in the back of their minds but I don’t expect them to be able to keep New Orleans close this time around, Saints by 9

Seattle Seahawks @ Philadelphia Eagles – this could be one ugly slug fest. In week 12 the Seahawks beat the Eagles in Philly by 17-9. Both teams are even more beat up now. Neither possess the talent to blow the other away here and it may come down to whatever Wentz and Wilson can conjure to get it done. I like the way Philadelphia have battled to this point so I’ll take the Eagles by 3

Same time next week!

“It’s a trap!” – Week 15 4-point stance

…as Admiral Ackbar once said. Entering into week 15 we still had several teams with a outside shout of a playoff spot and some had games which, on paper, looked like another W in the column to get them one step closer. However, traps lay ahead.

Who fell in?

Cleveland Browns 24 – 38 Arizona Cardinals
The Browns were 6-7 going into this game with a reasonable shout of at least an 8-8 record and an outside chance of #6 in the AFC playoff race. The Cardinals had fallen to 3-9-1 with 6 defeats on the spin (after a promising start). Arizona smashed Cleveland in the mouth early on and kept on pounding on the ground. The Browns got behind and could not catch up, even with another stand out performance from Nick Chubb. After lots of pre-season talk about the potential in Cleveland they have underperformed and at times have appeared disjointed and ill-disciplined. It will be interesting to see if they move on from HC Freddie Kitchens with the thought that they cannot afford to let the talented roster start to break up and the possibility that a change in the coaching staff could bring out the best in these Browns.

Atlanta Falcons 29 – 22 San Francisco 49ers
What goes 1 – 5 – 1 – 5? Answer, the 49ers as they yoyo between seedings in the NFC. After last week’s game of the season victory over the Saints they got ambushed at home by the Falcons, who have stuttered their way to an unconvincing 5-9 record. As with the 49ers other defeats this season the L came in the last few seconds thanks to Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Dan Quinn and his team have rescued the Falcons season somewhat (4-2 in last 6 weeks) but the 49ers should have banked the W to almost lock up the division title. Instead they are back to #5 and probably needing to beat the Seahawks in Seattle in week 17.

Jacksonville Jaguars 20 – 16 Oakland Raiders
Not so much of a playoff spot at risk here – Oakland have ground to a halt in the last month with 4 defeats in a row – but more of another example that sport does not stick to any fairytale script. This was the Raiders last game in Oakland before their move to Las Vegas next season, and their opponents looked ideal on paper. The Jaguars had lost 5 straight, all by at least 17 points. Oakland got up early and at 16-6 in the 4th the W seemed assured if not spectacular. However. Two late TDs from Gardner Minshew turned the game on its head as Oakland disintegrated. It takes some more of the shine off what had been a promising season from the Raiders and a disappointing end to football in Oakland for one of the most dedicated and fervent fan bases around.

Who survived?

Philadelphia Eagles 37 – 27 Washington Redskins
This was close. The Eagles are decimated at WR. Their offense survived through RB Miles Sanders and Wentz throwing to TEs and RBs – Greg Ward was the only WR to pull in a catch – 7 in total – with the most important the go ahead with seconds remaining. The Redskins pushed them close but the Eagles survived to go into the all important NFC title bout versus the Cowboys next week.

Seattle Seahawks 30 – 24 Carolina Panthers
The Seahawks were banged up and lost key players during the game, but they go out in front and at 30-10 in the 4th all was going according to plan. But then out of nowhere Kyle Allen and the Panthers scored 14 points unanswered to test Seattle’s nerve. Russell Wilson then converted a long 3rd down and the Seahawks were able to run out the clock and take the edge in the NFC West.

Other thoughts

Tip of the cap to Eli Manning after the Giants beat the Dolphins 36 – 20.
Deshaun Watson to Deandre Hopkins could take the Houston Texans to AFC south title.
The Packers and Patriots could end up being the least convincing #2 seeds ever.
Why can’t Jameis Winston play like that in September, October and November?
Philip Rivers looks done with the Chargers.
Welcome back to the Dallas Cowboys (and goodbye to the LA Rams).
Feeling the Draft – Chasing Young

I feel sorry for Ohio State’s premier pass rusher Chase Young. With still a little over 4 months until the 2020 NFL Draft and the fervour around his destination next year is already building. He has been anointed by several draft experts as the best player coming out of the college system – to such an extent that some even consider that the QB-needy Cincinnati Bengals may pass on Heisman Trophy winning LSU QB Joe Burrow in order to draft Chase Young. It could well be a close call for the Bengals as QB and pass rusher are probably the 2 most coveted positions to nail in the draft. However, I don’t see the Bengals limping on for another 12 months with Andy Dalton (or Ryan Finley) under center.

The more likely destination at the moment would be the NY Giants, still sat at #2 (just). Pass rush is a definite need for the Giants and if Young is on the board when they pick it could be the simplest decision for the front office to make. This plan took a jolt this week when a report came out that maybe Young was thinking of staying at Ohio State in 2020. Social media caught fire. Then, when you delved into the ‘story’ there was nothing of substance there. The report came out of TMZ Sports when they caught up with him at the Heisman Trophy ceremony. For me, if anything, this demonstrated how ready for the NFL Young is. It was a show of great maturity – here he is still concentrating on his College season and the game against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl on December 29th. He did not want the story to become him. He is focused on the game and his team mates. It demonstrated he is a professional.

It won’t be until the book is closed on the 2019 College season before he declares his position – which i think will be to enter the 2020 NFL Draft. If he does so whichever team manages to secure him will be getting a gem. We will though have to put up with numerous stories surrounding him such is the level of interest in the very top College talents. By the looks it though he can cope – I hope the fans of the teams he could go to (Bengals, Giants, Dolphins, Redskins) can too!

Week 16 picks

Back to .500 last week. Some great fixtures in week 16, could this be a 4 out of 4 week? Going for the crunch games so I am sticking my neck out!

Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots – both teams are now in the playoffs and I think this benefits Buffalo more. With nothing to lose I think they will feel the Patriots are there for the taking. New England beat Cincinnati last week but their offense still did not fire. I don’t see many points in this but I see more for Buffalo – Bills by 4

LA Rams @ 49ers – both looking to bounce back after defeats and the need is perhaps more with San Francisco in order to keep up with Seattle in the hunt for the NFC West title. I don’t think the Rams will be able to recover from the beat down the Cowboys gave them. 49ers by 6

Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles – okay you two, one of you has to win the NFC East, who’s it gonna be? I look at what is available to both offenses and on that basis it has to be Dallas. I’ll take the Cowboys by 10

Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings – it is bizarre that a team as strong as the Vikings with their record are in line to be #6 with the Packers at #2. No doubts that Green Bay have had a good season but, similar to the match up above, I’ll take Minnesota’s options on offense in the dome, Vikings by 7.

Same time next week!

The Final Stretch – Week 14 4-point stance

As we head into deepest darkest December the final 3 weeks of the season are upon us and teams are in 3 categories; those headed to the playoffs (but in what seedings), those battling to break into a playoff spot and those whose attentions are turning to potential changes to coaching staff and front offices in order to change their fortunes for 2020. Who’s hot and who’s not?


LA Rams – was it really 2 weeks ago when the Rams were blown away by the Ravens to fall to 6-5 with a playoff spot disappearing into the distance. Over the last 2 weeks the 2018 Rams offense has returned, Todd Gurley’s wheels are rolling again, and Jared Goff is back in those situations of 3 levels of open receivers to throw to. The Jet sweep is back! It is almost as though Sean McVay was conscious of not being a carbon copy of the 2018 Rams (thinking defenses would adapt) and, as a result, the offense stuttered through the early season. They were dismissive of the (then) NFC #1 seed Seahawks. They will need to repeat the performances over the next 2 weeks (@Cowboys and @49ers) but the Rams are hunting down a wildcard spot now.

Tannehill and the Titans – sounds like a soul band and the Music City Miracles are high at the moment in Tennessee. This has proved to be such a good fit since the Titans benched Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill. His QB rating prior to Tennessee had barely ever broken 90 – he currently sits at 118.5 in this 6 out of 7 run of victories. In tandem with Derrick Henry (already over 1,200 yards rushing) Tennessee now have an efficient offense to line up alongside an always competitive defense. This has catapulted them into joint 1st place in the AFC South and now in a straight shootout with the Houston Texans for the division. Their 2 game in 3 weeks series will decide the division and I would not bet against the Titans, and Tannehill, right now


Dallas Cowboys – dead man walking here. The Cowboys have lost their last 3 and have not beaten a team with a .500 or better record this season. Here’s the quandary – who sits 1st in total offensive yards per game and passing yards per game but 9th in points scored…..? As Jerry keeps reminding us all the pieces are there; Dak, Zeke, Amari Cooper, but they are not converting the possession into points. The defense has not hit the heights of last year and as a team they are goo enough (just) against the weak sides but not against their more direct rivals. With Philly winning against the Giants the situation is now serious. Their will only be the division title spot up for grabs – the Eagles play the Redskins next week whereas the Cowboys entertain the Rams. Dallas could very easily miss out on January football this year and that would surely result in a change at Head Coach.

The Lions, Jaguars, Panthers and Raiders – chosen these 4 because they look like they’ve given up on the 2019 season to varying degrees. Detroit and Jacksonville are both in a tailspin (3-13 combined since week 6) and headed for a change in coaching staff. Carolina, by contrast, have made the change at Head Coach but it has not sparked any fire based on the 40-20 defeat handed to them by the Atlanta Falcons. The Raiders season had shown promise but they have probably reached the limit of the their abilities for this season, and injuries have piled up of late. I do hope they can rally in the last 3 weeks for a respectable 8-8 finish from what has overall been a far more positive season.

Quick Thoughts

Giants – great to see Eli Manning back under centre for what maybe the last few outings and at HT (17-3) everyone wondered who was writing his script but the G-Men’s inability to play 4 good quarters resurfaced, the offense stalled and the OT TD to Zach Ertz is an embarrassment to the D…..

Broncos – have found their QB of the future in Drew Lock. He has been able to sit and watch and learn for the first 3 months of the season, and now looks like he is having fun and reigniting the Broncos offense to a decent final standing. Their draft class of 2019 has shown promise, like the Raiders, and I feel the AFC West will be more competitive next year.

Buccaneers – what is it like to have Jameis Winston as your QB? 33/45 456yds 4TD 3INT…. this game, which the Bucs won in the end, appeared to encapsulate Winston’s career. Must be such a rollercoaster ride – he just keeps slinging in – fun to watch. Probably done enough to earn another year starting in Tampa next season.

Steelers – how far can they go with this team this year. Essentially on one leg (the all conquering D) they are now 8-5. Can they get to the playoffs with just this and Duck Hodges?

49ers @ Saints – lots of coverage already, game of the season thus far. Very promising signs for the playoff games to come. The catch and run by George Kittle at the end – phenomenal. When the game is on the line you go to your top players. Also, loved the coaching of Robert Saleh on Saints last drive. Yes, they scored a TD but Saleh just kept blitzing so their was still 50 seconds on the clock for Garappolo to work with (and 3 time outs – well done Kyle Shanahan hanging on to them after not being able to stop the clock last week against the Ravens). Wonderful game – more of the same come January please.

Performance(s) of the week

Well done to those teams not headed to the playoffs who have not given up the ghost and dialled in their performances. Step forward the LA Chargers (45-10 over Jags), Atlanta Falcons (40-20 over Panthers), and the Chicago Bears who (like the LA Rams) have decided to fight for their lives to try and snag that #6 seed in the NFC side of the playoffs. Unlike some of those sides mentioned earlier, these are teams which are playing with pride to end their 2019 season with some positives even if it does not mean a run at a Super Bowl.

Week 15 picks

Another 3 out of 4 week last week (if the Saints had held at the last minute it would have been a full house). Will I ever get the elusive 100%? Maybe I should just pick some ‘shoo-ins’… might do that week 17! As for this week

LA Rams @ Dallas Cowboys – already trailed it earlier, one team is on the up, the other in disarray. Winner still in with a shout at a playoff berth, the loser could be on their way out. Momentum is everything, LA could give Dallas (and Jason Garrett) the final nail this week, Rams by 10

Buffalo Bills @ Pittsburgh Steelers – tough final run for Buffalo who are hoping they have already done enough to get over the finish line. The Steelers are riding their D as far as it will take them but I think Josh Allen and company will have the ability to bounce back from last week’s defeat, Bills by 4

Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers – the Packers are perhaps the least convincing division leaders at the moment (outside of the NFC East!) and the Bears are clawing at every moment to try and make the playoffs. Think Green Bay will raise their game here to send the Bears packing (see what I did there), so it is Packers by 8

Miami Dolphins @ NY Giants – a basement battle for the last matchup. Miami returns to New Jersey a week after losing in the Battle of the Kickers to the Jets. The Giants are in freefall and not even the sudden appearance of Eli Manning can put a good spin on the position of that organisation at the moment. Miami, meanwhile, have shown resilience in adversity and I think they will embarrass the Giants next week to add to Pat Shurmur’s woes. Dolphins by 6

Same time next week!

Snakes and Ladders – Week 13 4-point stance

Easy analogy and it happens every week. Some teams took a leap up the board towards the playoffs this week whilst others took a slide which will either hurt their potential seeding or their chance altogether.

Super Bowl LIV Preview?

Baltimore Ravens vs San Francisco 49ers would be a great Super Bowl match up this year, we know that now. The 20-17 win for Baltimore lived up to expectations. Both sides turned up and slugged it out, in atrocious conditions, for four full-on quarters before the Ravens ran the clock down to a 49yd field goal from Justin Tucker with 0:03 left.

This was a game of attrition, centred on the ground game with control of the ball and the clock. In a sport where, for the majority of the other 30 teams, 4th down means punt unless a number of boxes are checked (less than 3 yards to go, only in opposition territory), these sides demonstrated no fear in using 4 downs to get their 10 yards. The 49ers scored on their first 4th down conversion, a 33yd pass from Garoppolo to Deebo Samuel, but it was the decision to pass on a 4th-and-1 at the Ravens 35 yard line with six and a half minutes left which killed the 49ers hopes. They never got the ball back. Having already used 2 of their 3 timeouts the 49ers had no way to stop the clock.

On that play it was interesting to call pass when the run game, primarily through Raheem Mostert (19-146-1TD) had been so effective. Both sides will take positives from this game. Although defeated, the 49ers will take heart that they did limit the free-scoring Ravens – yes Lamar Jackson rushed for almost as many yards as he passed for (105 pass, 101 run) but Mark Ingram’s impact was limited. The Ravens will, of course, enjoy the comeback win and they demonstrated a level of control.

If these two sides do meet again the first Sunday in February I would expect the Ravens to be able to produce more fireworks on offense – especially (hopefully) in better (dryer) weather – and it would be intriguing to see if the 49ers defense could live with the Ravens if they upped the tempo on offense. I’m not sure that, if Baltimore upped the ante, San Francisco could respond. Lots for both to do before that of course and several teams could upset these two – including their opponents next week as the Ravens go to the Bills and the 49ers go to the Saints.

Seahawks – toughest team in the NFC?

Seattle came out on top 37-30 in their Monday night clash with Minnesota. This moved them to 10-2 and first place in the NFC West. In that record 1 win and 1 loss is by greater than 1 score – so they are 9-1 in games decided by 8 points or less. That is a remarkable statistic. It demonstrates the toughness that has always been associated with Pete Carroll’s Seahawks. On Monday night they leaned heavily on the run game, 218 yards on the ground, dominating time of possession at a shade under 40 minutes.

There is a lot to like about the Seahawks; the MVP calibre QB in Russell Wilson, a 1-2 punch at running back in Carson and Penny and a receiver corps headed by Tyler Lockett and exciting rookie DK Metcalf. The defensive front has stepped up in recent weeks in stopping the run, although still feel you can thrown on them. But more than the statistics it is the toughness through the season, with a combination of 4th quarter comebacks and holdouts, which is most impressive. With 4 games to go they have put themselves in the box seat for the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Minnesota pushed Seattle all the way and they remain a strong all-round team who will prove tough opponents in the playoffs. But this will be likely from a wildcard spot (#5), possibly versus divisional rivals the Packers.

Late runs / falls
AFC North – the Pittsburgh Steelers victory over the Cleveland Browns all but ended the Browns hopes whereas the Steelers unexpected chances of a playoff spot at #6 get stronger each week. They stand on the edge at 7-5 with pressure coming from….

AFC South – take a bow the Tennessee Titans, also known as the 9-7 Titans. They have finished with that record 3 years running and if they split their last 4 games guess how they end up? They dealt the Indianapolis Colts a severe blow and now have the Houston Texans firmly in their sights – 2 meetings this month will decide the division.

AFC West – we’ve all enjoyed the Raiders renaissance but after the 40-9 defeat by Kansas City they sit at 6-6. Four winnable fixtures follow but they need to rediscover their early November form to make it happen.

AFC East – the Buffalo Bills now sit one game behind the New England Patriots. The Patriots are stumbling towards the playoffs with a faltering offense. They have to play the Chiefs and the Bills in the next 3 weeks. Could the Bills catch the Patriots?

In the NFC the teams likely to qualify are more assured – apart from the NFC East which no-one seems to want to win. Might look at this division in more detail in next week as the Washington Redkins (3-9) have not yet been eliminated! Bizarre!

Who is already looking to 2020?

What if you support a team where the world has caved in this year, as I do, and you are already looking forward to the 2020 NFL Draft in the hope of a high pick to spark your roster into life next season? There are 7 teams with 3 wins or less (almost a 1/4 of the league). Looking at the way the fixtures pan out over the next month there is a lot at stake and positions will change. At the moment the top 3 Draft picks would go to the Bengals, Giants then Redskins. Here are the final fixtures for those teams plus those with a (slightly) better record. Highlighted are the match-ups I think each side will win.

Bengals – @Browns, Patriots, @Dolphins, Browns
Giants – @Eagles, Dolphins, @Redskins, Eagles
Redskins – @Packers, Eagles, Giants, @Cowboys
Dolphins – @Jets, @Giants, Bengals, @Patriots
Falcons – Panthers, @49ers, Jaguars, @Bucs
Lions – @Vikings, Bucs, @Broncos, Packers
Cardinals – Steelers, Browns, @Seahawks, @Rams

Despite the Bengals breaking their duck versus the Jets last week I can only see them splitting their series with the Browns to finish at 2-14. The Giants have forgotten how to win and they have been the punchbag of the NFC East for the last couple of years so all they are getting from me is a W home to Miami (3-13). The Redskins will stumble through the last 4 games against tough opponents but I’ll give them a home W versus the G-Men (4-12). The Dolphins will come up empty from two consecutive trips to New Jersey but will beat the Bengals to finish 4-12. I can find a win for the Cardinals but not the Lions. Detroit, like NYG, are in a tailspin and I think 3-12-1 awaits.

All of that would give us the following top 5 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
2. NY Giants
3. Detroit Lions
4. Washington Redskins
5. Miami Dolphins
Week 14 picks

3 out of 4 correct last week (I’m just going to stop backing the Cowboys…). Week 14 throws up some great fixtures which will impact on the pecking order for teams headed to the playoffs. Oh and I’ve thrown in the Dolphins and Jets…

49ers @ Saints – These two sides could very well meet in the NFC Playoffs. The 49ers are coming off their heavyweight bout against the Ravens whereas the Saints played early in week 13 on Thanksgiving against the Falcons. The extra rest will help New Orleans and the 49ers may just have a hangover from last week. Saints by 6

Chiefs @ Patriots – The Chiefs are just getting things rolling again and they beat down heavily on the Raiders. The Patriots were outclassed by the Texans. I think Kansas City deal them another blow this week, Chiefs by 5

Ravens @ Bills – This could be really interesting. Buffalo are on a roll and they will not fear the Ravens, who themselves are coming off a hard fought win over 49ers. I’d like to think the Bills could win but in the end I don’t think they will have enough on offense to score points needed, Ravens by 7

Dolphins @ Jets – Until last week the Jets looked like they were improving, and then they lose to the Bengals. The Dolphins are also a team which has improved through the season and their 3 wins thus far is more than most would have given them earlier this season. NYJ will be looking to scrub last week from memory and I think the Jets win by 4

Same time next week!